Monday, August 30, 2010
This last weekend Jeanne and I dropped Luke off at college. He's going to USD where I am a professor, but living in the dorms. USD prides itself on being the very opposite of the big, impersonal state university where the minnow is dropped off into the ocean and you hope for the best. There was a whole program for the parents, intended to reassure us that they were really, really going to take care of our kids. It was well organized, the weather was beautiful, his room was quite nice, his suite mates seemed like great kids, many from Texas and thereabouts. It would have been worse without these things, but I would still describe my emotional state over the weekend as vacillating between paralyzed numbness and grief.
This is another one no one warned me about. This summer had been very busy for us. Our four boys were involved in various activities and even with Luke driving it seemed to me I always had to be taking somebody somewhere or picking them up. I knew the time was coming when Luke would be moving out but I guess I didn't quite appreciate that it would be a big deal. He's attending the college where I work, so I thought he is really not far away. I did not think of it as in fact it is -- that before we all lived under the same roof, and now we don't. I drank most of a bottle of chardonnay because I didn't have any scotch. Take my advice, and lay some in.
On Sunday there was a Mass for new students and parents. It was the most beautiful Mass I had been to in a long, long time. The music was wonderful, the homily was thoughtful, the kids looked happy and the parents looked I thought mostly rather stricken. At the end our celebrant said there was a custom from Catholic Mexico of blessing a child before he went out into the world, so he led us through that. I got maybe half the words out; Jeanne, none. Walking back to Luke's room we saw a mom and her son hugging next to a car with Florida or Texas plates. Each was hugging the other and it was clear neither had an exit strategy. Mom was crying and saying something about Christmas break. Christmas. Jesus.
I know it's a good thing. It's a privilege and a success to send your son off to college. You certainly wouldn't want him just staying at home playing video games or watching TV. Growing up and moving out is a major objective. I just don't like it. What I want to be really is Ben Cartwright on my own Ponderosa. The boys would help me work the ranch and if any bad guys showed up, we could kill them together. If any of them got married, there would be plenty of room in the big house or if need be, lots of good, solid pine to build rooms out for the young'uns. That's the way to do it.
I have a theory about why it is so hard. Your son (maybe it's the same for daughters) is probably the best friend you have. American men are notoriously poor at making friends, but be that as it may, father and son probably have common interests, sports, warfare, or in Luke's and my cases, politics and martial arts. Then just as your son is really becoming an adult, off he goes. And you stand there thinking, wait a damn minute. You go through the motions like you know what you're doing. They say it gets easier and I hope they're right.